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Negotiating schools, teenagers and weather: the making of Teen Canteen

Finestripe Production's idea for upcoming BBC Scotland series Teen Canteen began with the canteen rather than the teens. School kitchens are a tremendous professional resource which lie idle for most of the day. This meant we could make use of them for something exciting without getting in anyone’s way. We then realised that schools have another resource that lies idle for much of the time - teenagers.

The plan was for teenagers to take over their school kitchens in order to learn how to cook and run a business which would both put dinner on their own tables and compete with local takeaways. We found prospective business and food mentors, former Eurostar and Sainsbury’s Bank boss Hamish Taylor and catering entrepreneur Fi Buchanan, and took it to BBC Scotland who were immediately enthusiastic. Now all we needed to do was to find a school that would let us use their kitchens and pupils.

It was our huge good fortune that the first school we approached had a head teacher who immediately understood what we wanted to do, and how it would benefit both school and pupils. David MacKenzie’s co-operation and faith in us throughout the production period series made it far easier to focus on making the best programmes we could.

Linlithgow Academy was top of our list for several reasons. Linthithgow is a commuter town, sitting on the main train line between Glasgow and Edinburgh, which means it’s full of busy parents who would be a prime market for our takeaway. Also, the school has some of the best exam results in Scotland, so there were a large group of sixth form students with unconditional offers from university and therefore the free time to be part of our project. The final bonus was that it was only an hour from Glasgow, meaning we could save on hotels and sleep in our own beds at night.

Even with the head teacher on board, we still had to get through a tense meeting with the head of West Lothian Council’s school catering division. As soon as she heard the words ‘school kitchens’ and ‘television’ she had assumed we were planning on making a new version of Jamie’s School Dinners. Once we had convinced her that this wasn’t the case, and that we would take every precaution possible to stop any injuries to the pupils in the kitchen, we were ready to go.

The school’s only real restriction on our filming was that we had to avoid being a distraction around exam time, which meant we had to finish by the end of the winter term. We had a lot of filming to do in not a lot of time.
As a production team, we learned that nobody in the world has a busier schedule than a 17 year-old. Filming had to fit in around fencing lessons, driving lessons, field trips, work shifts, school assessments, family events and numerous other immovable engagements. When we took the pupils out of school, balancing the schedules of the crew, locations and the pupils was like working on a Rubik’s cube with ten sides.
The pupils could be tricky to deal with, but they could always be reasoned with – I count persuading two teenagers to be ready for a 6.30am shoot among my greatest achievements in television. But the same couldn’t be said of the weather.

We organised a food competition at Linlithgow Palace with some of Scotland’s top chefs, which we hoped would demonstrate the wonderful diversity of Scottish food and be a huge draw for the public. We managed the former, but a massive storm dampened the appetite for our open air event.

Last March was among the coldest on record, which meant that our outdoor takeaway was greeted by driving snow. On the plus side, the weather really drummed up demand for our Scottish soul food, which was primarily soups and stews and emergency orders of heaters and braziers helped to prevent hypothermia for the pupils and customers of Teen Canteen, and the snow covered hills of West Lothian gave us some beautiful GVs.
Unfortunately, there still isn’t a glove that allows you to handle release forms in the icy cold and I finished production with fingers that were bleeding at every joint. But fingers heal, and making a series I’m really proud of was definitely worth all the blood.

Jamie Bolland is development ap for Finestripe on Teen Canteen which airs on BBC Two Scotland from 3 December

Posted 28 November 2013 by Jamie Bolland
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